The Awakening (2011)
The Awakening has a strong opening with a scene involving a seance. Set in the post WWI years of the early twenties, the film explores the concept of a nation coming to terms with grief. It is here that we are introduced to Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) a professional hoax exposer and paranormal investigator. Is she solely dedicated to debunking the supernatural or does she have a yearning to encounter something genuinely supernatural? This opening sequence is perhaps the highpoint in The Awakening, as it is clever and thought provoking and could have been developed into a story in itself. Although the narrative moves on and maintains a strong grip on the audience for the next two acts, it never quite recaptures the atmosphere and depth of its opening.
She is subsequently commissioned to investigate the strange happenings at a boarding school, by schoolmaster Robert Mallory (Dominic West). A boy has reportedly died of fright at seeing a ghostly apparition of a child with a "twisted face". Florence naturally suspects mass hysteria or some distinctly earthly subterfuge. Yet matters are obviously more complex that they first seem, and the plot unfolds into realms of PTS, sexual repression, self-harm. Along the way much ghostly literature is referenced (think M R James, Algernon Blackwood and Shirley Jackson) along with some classic films of a similar idiom, such The Orphanage, The others and The Devil's Backbone.
The Awakening is professionally constructed with a handsome production design and sinister atmosphere. The cast is exceptionally strong, and the film is dominated by Rebecca hall's performance. There are nods to other genre classic and a scene that appears to have been lifted directly from The Changeling, but we will consider this a homage rather than plagiarism. Yet the third act sees the film over reach itself and stray into the realm of incredulity. Considering how much the film initially gets right it is somewhat surprising that such a mistake could have been made at this point. The screenplay co-written by director Nick Murphy and Stephen Volk (Ghostwatch) is very much at fault here and perhaps the least experienced of the pair, Murphy, is the culprit. The twist ending is unfortunately not so much of a surprise and seem to rush to fill in the logical gaps in the plot.
However, despite its faults, I applaud The Awakening for daring to be more traditional in its approach to the genre and for eschewing cheap shocks and tricks that are so prevalent in contemporary horror. The period production design is also authentic and adds to the movies ambience. If you can forgive a somewhat flawed ending you will be rewarded with an atmospheric and thoughtful supernatural drama with solid performances and an understanding of the genre. This film with all its failings is still in a different league to that which Hollywood is currently producing.